J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr.,

**Engineer,
Mathematician, **

**Inventor
of Shielding for Gamma Radiation**

**J.
Ernest Wilkins, Jr.**

** Born: November 27, 1923**

**Birthplace: Chicago, Illinois**

** B.S. Mathematics (1940)
Uiversity of Chicago**

** Ph.D. Mathematics (1942)
University of Chicago
thesis: Multiple Integral Problems in Parametric Form in the Calculus of Variations;
Advisor: Magnus Hestenes**

**additional degrees: Bachelors
of Mechanical Engineering (1957) New York University; Masters of Mechanical
Engineering (1960) New York University**

**Research Interests: Mathematics,
Applied Mathematics, Physics, Nuclear Engineering**

** Clark Atlanta University**

**At the age of 13, J. Ernest
Wilkins, Jr. entered college at the University of Chicago and at 17, received
his B.S. in Mathematics and ranked in the top 10 in Mathematics' famous undergraduate
Putnam Competition. At the age of 19, in 1942, he became the seventh African
American to obtain a Ph.D. in Mathematics (from the University of Chicago).
He was described in national newspapers as "the Negro genius." After
working as a mathematician for many years, Dr. Wilkins sought to get some
practical education. Wilkins was the second African American to be named to
the National Academy of Engineering.**

**Wilkins' parents, Lucille
Robinson Wilkins and J. Ernest Wilkins, Sr. were successful in their own right.
Both had graduated from the University of Chicago, Lucille was an educator
(?) while Wilkins, Sr. whose Bachelor's degree was in Mathematics, was an
accomplished attorney. In 1954, President Truman appointed Wilkins, Sr as
Assistant Secretary of Labor, and he was appointed to the 1958 Civil Rights
Commission.**

**Early in his career Wilkins
was insulted by the American Mathematical Society and has never since attended
an AMS Meeting in the Southeast. Lee Lorch recorded this piece of history
about Wilkins and racism in mathematics in 1947**

**Wilkins was a few years
past the Ph. D. ... He received a letter from the AMS Associate Secretary
for that region urging him to come and saying that very satisfactory arrangements
had been made with which they were sure he'd be pleased: they had found a
``nice colored family" with whom he could stay and where he would take
his meals! The hospitality of the University of Georgia (and of the American
Mathematics Society) was not for him - he refused. This is why the meeting
there was totally white.**

**Immediately after the Ph.D.
Wilkins was a visiting member of the Institute for Advanced Study at the completion
of his appointment, no research university would employ him. Thus, much of
Wilkins' active career was with government or industry and all of his academic
career was in HBCU institutions: Tuskegee, Howard, and Clark Atlanta.**

**Dr. J. Ernest Wilkins,
Jr. was Instructor of Mathematics at the Tuskegee Institute from 1943-1944,
Associate Physicist to Physicist on the Manhattan Project from 1944-46. From
1946-1950 he worked in Buffalo New York as a Mathematician for the American
Optical Company. From 1950-65 he served as a Senior Mathematician, Manager
of Physics and Mathematics, and Manager of the Nuclear Development Corporation
of America. In 1957 he obtained a B.M.E. (Bachelors of Mechanical Engineering)
from New York University. In 1960 he earned an M.M.E. (Masters of Mechanical
Engineering) from New York University.**

**From 1960-70, Wilkins was
Assistant Chairman of the Theoretical Physics Department and Assistant Director
of the Atomic Division of General Dynamics Corporation from 1960 to 1965.
In 1970, Dr. Wilkins was appointed as Distinguished Professor of Applied Mathematical
Physics at Howard University. Dr. Wilkins was a joint owner of a company which
designed and developed nuclear reactors for electrical power generation.**

**Dr. J. Ernest Wilkins,
Jr. is a past President (1974) of the American Nuclear Society. One of Wilkins'
major achievements has been the development of radiation shielding against
gamma radiation, emitted during electron decay of the Sun and other nuclear
sources. He developed mathematical models by which the amount of gamma radiation
absorbed by a given material can be calculated. This technique of calculating
radiative absorption is widely used among researchers in space and nuclear
science projects. In 1976, Wilkins was inducted into the National Academy
of Engineering.**

**J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr.
is certainly one of the greatest Black Mathematicians.**

**videocassette: Wilkins,
J. Ernest, Jr. Optimization of extended surfaces for heat transfer. A joint
AMS-MAA lecture presented in Baltimore, Maryland, January 1992. AMS-MAA Joint
Lecture Series. American Mathematical Society, Providence, RI, 1994. 1 videocassette
(NTSC; 1/2 inch; VHS) (60 min.); sd.; col. ISBN: 0-8218-8090-X**

**SUMMA Wilkins web site:
http://www.maa.org/summa/archive/WilkinsJ.htm**